According to a report issued by the Federal Trade Commission, Americans who are 60 years of age and older are five times more likely to be victimized by a tech-support scam than those between the ages of 20-59 years old.
Most seniors view their computers as a fast and easy way to communicate with others as well as catch up on the news, weather, and stocks. Plus, many of us enjoy the convenience of online shopping and banking. Unfortunately, though many of us only know how to use our computers for convenience purposes, requiring us to rely on others for computer support.
So, when our computers go on the fritz, most seniors seek tech support to resolve their computer issues. And there isn’t a computer user out there that isn’t aware of the dangers of viruses and hackers, which is how many tech scams prey on our fears.
Seniors have been the target of scams for years, but there is a disproportionate number of computer scams impacting the senior community, and here’s why:
- Seniors are generally less tech-savvy
- Seniors are more isolated
- Seniors are less likely to tell others about being scammed
Criminals using computer tech scams are not some pimply kid in their parent’s basement. Instead, they are actual businesses such as Elite IT Partners, Inc. Elite IT is a Utah based company that is being prosecuted for its involvement in using “deceptive tactics” to gain access to computers and sell unnecessary and harmful computer repair and tech support products.
What Is a Tech Support Scam?
A tech support scam comes in two forms, one is directly on your computer, and the other is in the way of a phone call.
The more common of these two is the pop up on your computer. A popup is a window that appears on your screen without your prompting it. This popup will make a claim stating it is with a reputable business such as Apple or Microsoft, even going as far as displaying the logo.
The message will say something to the effect of viruses or malware has been detected on your computer and that you should call the number provided for assistance. When you call this number, the operator on the other end of the line will answer your call, branding the company name you see on your screen.
Once the fraudsters have you on the phone, they will request access to your computer so that they can resolve the issue from their end, as well as payment information to clear your computer.
Once these criminals have access to your computer, then they can steal personal information, install harmful software, all in addition to charging your credit card for their “service.”
Additionally, after the person has paid for the tech support, the scammers may call them back and claim a refund and billing issue, eliciting more money from their victim.
The other tech support scam comes in the form of a phone call. The caller ID will identify a reputable company, and the caller will make a similar claim as the popup version. The two scams are identical, except for how the criminal gets in contact with you.
How to Identify Tech Support Scams
Knowing what to look for is key to protecting yourself and avoiding tech support scams.
One of the biggest red flags when it comes to tech support scams is when you are contacted unexpectedly by phone, email, or popup with claims there is an issue with your computer. Sometimes, scammers focusing on seniors will use phone calls to try and make a more personal connection.
Also, if you receive a pop-up message indicating a phone number, it is likely to be a scam. Real warning messages do not request you to call a phone number. According to the FTC a popup screen often looks like:
Another sign you may be dealing with a scammer is if the tech support person is pressuring you to act now before the virus infects your computer or something to that effect.
Scammers preying on seniors are counting on playing off of your fears and your trust in a reliable company name. These criminals will also use urgency or even threats to get you to buy or give them personal information. The threats will be related to losing personal data.
And, if the person you are speaking to asks for your password, that is another indicator you may be dealing with a less than a legitimate group. And if they initiated contact and are requesting access to your computer, that is another red flag they are not on the up and up.
Also, some scammers will offer you the ability to pay with a gift card not associated with their company. If someone tells you that you can pay with any gift card, you know that it is a scam.
Online tech support scammers will even advertise their services as legitimate businesses in online search engines. When you are looking for a tech support team, it is best to contact a company you know and trust. For example, if you purchased your computer from Best Buy, contact their tech support team. Or, if you bought your computer from Apple, contact Apple for assistance.
Trust your gut; if it feels off, there is a good chance that something is not right with the situation. Remember, legitimate tech support groups do not initiate contact with you by phone, email, or text.
How to Avoid Tech Support Scams
There are a few things you can do to avoid being scammed:
- Do not click any links on popups or emails that claim to be tech support.
- Do not call any phone numbers displayed on popups or emails warning of a computer problem.
- Hang up on unexpected callers claiming to be with tech support.
- Even if your caller ID claims a reputable source – Caller ID can be falsified.
- Never give out your password or control of your computer to anyone who contacts you.
- Update your security software regularly.
- Contact your Internet Service Provider to report the situation; they can help identify if there is a valid issue.
- Contact the security software company if you installed their product, they too can help identify and resolve computer issues.
- Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call list; though this will not eliminate 100% of these calls, it will decrease the chances.
- When you have computer issues and need assistance contact, a trusted IT person or ask a friend or family member for a trusted recommendation
What to Do If You Suspect You Were Scammed
The FTC encourages those who believe they have been taken advantage of through a tech support scam to report the incident immediately. Reporting these crimes is the only way to both get your money back as well as stop this from happening to others.
It is essential to report the crime if you are the victim of a tech support scam. Seniors are the most likely to be targeted and the least likely to report such issues due to feeling embarrassed. However, there is nothing to be ashamed about if you have been scammed out of money.
Last year the FTC received 143,000 reports of tech support scams. You will not be the first to report this, nor will you be the last. Though the FTC has warned consumers for years about tech support scams, criminals continue to find new and inventive ways to commit criminal acts using tech support as a front.
First, if you gave your credit card information to a scammer, then call your credit card company and report the charge. They can stop the payment, reverse charges, and investigate the claim.
If you gave the scammers access to your computer, install a security software program on your computer. If you already had one before, run a scan and remove anything identified as a potential threat.
If you gave them your password, change your password immediately. Additionally, if you happen to use the same password for other accounts, change those too.
Finally, if you find yourself in this situation, talk about it with others. Most seniors don’t want to report these crimes, let alone talk about to friends.
However, you will likely be surprised at how many others have had similar experiences. And if your friend has not been targeted by sharing your story, you may aid them in avoiding a similar situation if computer scammers contact them.
How to Report Tech Support Scams
Even if you were not a victim of a tech support scam and were just a target of one, it is still critical to report it to the proper authorities. The FTC requests you report all attempts and acts of fraud to them through their website.
If your computer freezes up with the popup message, be sure to call your tech support company for assistance and not the number on the screen. Even if the error on the display clears, it is a good idea to check your security software.